Performing outreach at EPCC – our experience

Published by:

Mario Antonioletti, EPCC

EPCC, at the University of Edinbugh, commenced its outreach involvement with it’s attendance of the British Science Festival in 2012. Our aim was to promote and demistify what supercomputers are and how they are typically used to a general audience regardless of their age. To achieve this we chose an illustrative number of activities: we connected to the then UK national HPC service, HECToR, where we run a molecular dynamics application in parallel whose results could be visualised in real time and interacted with via VMD. This allowed the simulation to be externally controlled by participants who were then tasked with extracting a pheromone molecule embedded inside a mouse urinary protein which provided our tag line: “Can you make the mouse wee smell?”. We also invited participants to take on the role of processors to perform a number parallel sort of a set of integers printed on pieces of card randomly distributed amongst them using message passing methods – we talked them through the resulting algorithm. Finally we displayed a number of motherboards from previous actual supercomputers to show the main operational principles. At the time we were quite pleased with the results of our first event and a subsequent follow-up.

Over the following years we gradually came up with new activities and slowly evolved or replaced existing ones. For instance, logging on to a supercomputer from a science festival venue meant that you would need a reliable network to be available at a venue site which was not always the case. In addition, with no real baseline expectation of how fast an application should run, i.e. serial vs parallel, the resulting experience could be somewhat underwhelming. We thought it would be nice to take an actual supercomputer on tour with us but that would introduce insurmountable logistic problems nevermind the expense. If not a supercomputer then a model one might do but it was not until the follow-on UK national supercomputing service, ARCHER, came along that some funding became available for us to realise our dream – Wee Archie was born:

EDINBURGH, UK – 20th January 2016: A mini supercomputer called Wee ARCHIE that powers virtual dinosaur races has been developed by the University of Edinburgh in collaboration with the Edinburgh Parallel Computing Centre, to show how the worldís most powerful computers work. (Photograph: MAVERICK PHOTO AGENCY)

An 18 Raspberry-Pi based model of a supercomputer. Ok, it cannot compare to an actual modern supercomputer but all the essential elements are there with the bonus that you have flashing LED lights and you just cannot have a supercomputer without these! A number of applications have been developed to work in this environment: dinosaur racing, designing a plane’s wing to see whether you can generate enough lift to take off and a weather demo and we can now ship off our very own supercomputer to events. In fact demand for the use of Wee Archie within our proved high enough for a second system to be built this time using blue LEDs. Understandably not everyone will be able to build such a system but the experience of constructing the system allowed us to produce some instructions on how to build a Raspberry-Pi cluster.

Similarly the message passing parallel sort was not so amenable to the high throughput environment as presented at a science festival. The activity had to be instructor led and required several steps before the number list was globally sorted. We wanted something that would be more self explanatory and which would show the benefits of parallelism, the basis of supercomputers, with greater immediacy. We slowly iterated to what has become my personally favourite activity – coloured object sorting (I say object because we started with balls but we now use coloured bean bags). To do this we get one person to sort as many coloured objects as they can in 30 seconds by putting a coloured objects into the corresponding coloured bucket. We then get 2 or more people, a peer or a family group, to perform the same task including the single person sorter if possible – invariably they will get more and there lies the principle: you can do more within the same period when compared to one. We also get participants to record their score by putting on a sticky dot on a piece of graph paper, as shown below. This allows people to see how they performed in relation to others, sometimes engendering a competitive spirit, but it also allows you to draw many beautiful analogies, e.g. as the number of people increases you get contention so performance does not scale linearly, the variability in performance when the processors are not homogeneous (4 year old child is joined by mother), etc.

The score board for the sorting activity.

We have developed and tried other activities and have started writing these up. We are always looking for new activities or ways of improving existing ones. If you would like to collaborate with us to this end then please visit our GitHub pages. The overall aim is to inform and educate people about supercomputers and how they are used.

News from the Educational Content Committee

Published by:

Julia Mullen

For decades the HPC community has created, published and shared education and training materials through classes, webinars, tutorials and websites. We all know that there are excellent teaching materials for everything from teaching basic Linux skills to illustrating high level application concepts, but as the amount of material has proliferated, our ability to search through and discover specific content has been compromised.

In speaking with community members during SC17, it became clear that we all seek ready-to-use materials in the form of well-designed lessons complete with explanations and working code examples, full tutorials with hands-on activities or portable training materials but quickly become overwhelmed by the huge number of sites and lists of materials. Through these conversations it became clear that we needed a plan to streamline the repositories and sort the materials in order to ease the discovery process.

As a first pass, the educational materials could be sorted based on audience type, K-12, informal, professional, academic (undergraduate or graduate student) or on topic, Linux, MPI, OpenMP, etc, or on material type, website, tutorial, code, or perhaps some other characteristic. Recognizing the discovery challenges and community frustration, but not wanting to reinvent the wheel, we established the Educational Content committee to develop recommendations for

  • Creating a single or a few repositories in order to simply the discovery process
  • The format and design of fully portable, well documented and tested code examples, and
  • Guidelines for the review and acceptance of new educational materials.

We are currently reviewing tools that focus on the discovery process and existing repositories such as GitHub, Open Educational Commons and HPC University before we provide any recommendations. To aid our planning and discussions, we have created a survey to capture the needs and priorities of the HPC Education community. The survey can be found at: link

We appreciate any input you can give, completion of the survey, joining the committee, following us and giving feedback on our Slack Channel #sighpced-content.

We look forward to hearing from you!

News from the Outreach Committee

Published by:

Weronika Filinger

The role of the outreach committee is two-fold: to create communication channels for chapter members and to promote the chapter activities and other related events to the wider HPC community.

Most of our efforts are focused around:

  • Organising a series of online seminars. The next session, given by Andrew Turner (EPCC), will be about the HPC Carpentry
  • Publishing online blog articles on a variety of topics. Some of them include: training, education, diversity, outreach, tools, events and user perspective.
  • Running the SIGHPC Education public calendar of events. We invite the posting of any events that are relevant to the HPC education and training community.
  • Publishing the SIGHPC Education newsletter every 2 months. We hope it will help us to keep the chapter members up-to-date with a variety of HPC education-related events.
  • Understanding the needs and expectations of the chapter members. To gather information from SIGHPC Education members on the potential priorities and activities of the chapter we create a survey. Please fill it out!

We are always looking for education-related contributions from across the HPC community. We want to make the seminar series more regular so we are keen to receive topic suggestions and hear from volunteers to deliver them. We also hope to make the blog as interesting and informative as possible, so please do contribute.

If you would like to be added to our slack channel, want to give or suggest a seminar, are willing to write a blog article on any of the related topics, or simply want to get in touch with us, send an email to

We want to hear from you!

News from the Workshop Committee

Published by:

Nitin Sukhija

The SIGHPC Workshop Committee has its mission promoting the interest in and knowledge of applications of High Performance Computing (HPC) by organizing, coordinating and managing in-person and virtual events and workshops. We are actively engaged in fostering collaborations between all HPC Community members at all education levels in the scientific and big data applications domain, and in facilitating a global forum for HPC and non-HPC members interaction, and in promoting opportunities for members to expand their knowledge of high performance computing.

Our committee is seeking motivated members from the computing community to help us:

1)   accelerate global collaborations and global membership diversity of the chapter by enhancing and leading exciting new HPC training and education initiatives worldwide in multitude of domains, such as Big Data, Cybersecurity, Cloud Computing, Internet of Things and more.

2)   efficiently and effectively engage HPC practitioners and professionals from all age levels to extend further the outreach of the SIGHPC Education Chapter and to facilitate development of more training and educational programs for both HPC and non-HPC members at all stages of their education and career development.

Few of our recent efforts involve:


If you are HPC stakeholder interested in addressing challenges with effectiveness of HPC education and training materials and promoting collaborations among HPC educators, trainers and users, please join our committee for furthering the above-mentioned efforts!


News from the Computational Science Education Committee

Published by:

Maciej Cytowski, The Pawsey Supercomputing Centre

The most important goal of the SIGHPC Computational Science Education Committee is to provide a high quality and open communication platform for educators, lecturers and HPC professionals. Most of the activities are organised around sharing experiences, expectations, challenges and ideas related to various computational science educational activities. We organise monthly virtual meetings to look at available resources of computational science education content, to discuss new formats of education and training, to propose and get involved in joint webinars, conference workshops and Birds of a Feather sessions (BoFs).

As an example of our recent activities, we are organising a BoF session “HPC Education: Widening Participation and Increasing Skills through Contests, Challenges and Extra Curricular Learning” during the ISC 2018 Conference in Frankfurt, Germany, June 26th. More information about the session can be found here.We are also involved in the preparation of workshops for the upcoming international conferences.

The committee is open to everyone from the computational science education community. In fact, current committee members are involved in various levels of computational science education and represent different scientific computing disciplines. This special mix of competencies not only allows us to understand the needs and challenges we – as a community – face,  but also gives us the opportunity to share and explore many unique ideas.

If you are planning a new computational science curriculum, a new teaching or training course or a hackathon, or simply want to improve materials you currently use, or are willing to share your experiences and ideas…. please consider joining our committee!!! 


HPC Education: Widening Participation and Increasing Skills through Contests, Challenges and Extra Curricular Learning

Published by:

Nitin Sukhija

At this year’s ISC conference in Frankfurt, the ACM SIGHPC Education Chapter has coordinated with a distinguished panel of speakers involved in HPC training and education efforts from CESGA, ICM Warsaw, CHPC and Sandia National Labs to bring together stakeholders in HPC education including academia, industry, government and non-profit/non-governmental organizations worldwide.

Please participate in our discussion aimed at answering the following question:

“why and how should we integrate the HPC instructional practices with the alternative flexible pedagogical and andragogical approaches that stimulate creativity leading to recruiting, motivating and retaining individuals to create diverse HPC community?”

Through short presentations followed by a panel-style discussion, the BoF aims to:

  • highlight success stories and challenges of integrating technology-based transformational experiences, such as contests and research, for increasing the effectiveness of HPC education,
  • gain a better understanding of factors that lead to successful learning; and identity development in this domain,
  • gather best practices, document opportunities for improvement and potential solutions, and
  • establish sustainable long term collaborative efforts focusing on development supporting HPC education.



The “HPC Education: Widening Participation and Increasing Skills through Contests, Challenges and Extra Curricular Learning” session will take place on Tuesday 26th June 2018 at 3:45 PM in the Analog 1,2 room at the Frankfurt Messe during ISC’18 in Frankfurt.

Everyone is welcome to attend and contribute to the discussion!

HPC Outreach: There is not a moment to lose

Published by:

Nick Brown, EPCC
“There is not a moment to lose”

I don’t know if you have ever read any of the Aubrey-Maturin books by the late Patrick O’Brian, set at the turn of the 18thto 19thCentury and describing life in the Royal Navy. Even if you have only flicked through one of the books, you will probably have picked up an almost constant sense of urgency and this is a realistic representation of what pervaded through the navy at that time – in the books much to the annoyance of the decidedly un-navy like Dr Maturin!

Why outreach matters?

Based on the modern pace of change I think this sentiment is truer today, especially in scientific fields, than it has ever been before. Certainly from my perspective there is an urgency to try and push forward the state of the art in HPC and share it, before other people’s activities supersede my work. However, I think this same sense of urgency also applies to other, non-technical, aspects of our community. Diversity is a prime example here and, whilst there are some excellent initiatives being adopted by the likes of the SC and ISC conferences, we still have a long way to go.

In my mind outreach and public engagement is also something that the community needs to be pushing, and indeed in recent years there have been significant developments here too. There are several reasons why we should be concerned with outreach, and it is my belief that a very important one is that it can help us to meet our diversity goals. Successful outreach, which encourages a wide variety of individuals to consider science, and possibly HPC, as a career can be a key tool in helping shape the future make-up of our community. But also, public engagement informs the general public of what we are doing, why it is important and crucially why we deserve tax payer’s money! I think SC had its finger on the pulse when it adopted the “hpcmatters” hashtag, but more needs to be done to share the importance of HPC to a general audience.


This therefore draws me to the heart of why I have written this blog post – we have a BoF at ISC about HPC outreach and public engagement. Hopefully from what I have written you can see that our definition of outreach is broad and covers a wide variety of areas. These include engaging with school kids about science, enthusing older University students about HPC, sharing the importance of HPC with the general public, and encouraging scientists & engineers to use HPC in their research.

The idea of the BoF is to bring together people who are doing, or interested in doing, outreach. Irrespective of whether someone is experienced in outreach, or if they are just starting out and want to get more involved, the idea is that by meeting up we can all learn from each other. Our session at ISC lasts for an hour and the plan is for this to be heavily interactive; sharing experiences of public engagement, discussing best practice and tips for doing better outreach, and exploring questions around how to ensure outreach can help the community’s diversity efforts. There will also be several demos present and time at the end for attendees to get hands on with these. Crucially these are all “open” and instructions for using them in your own outreach will be provided.

June will see the third run of an outreach BoF, previous ones having been held at SC16 and SC17. But importantly ISC will be the first time we have done this in Europe and I think we will get a somewhat different audience. Certainly the outreach BoFs at SC have been very successful and generated lots of interesting discussion, the key is bringing together the worldwide community and I am excited about the new ideas and discussions that we will have in Frankfurt about outreach.

So in my mind there is indeed, not a moment to lose, in leveraging outreach & public engagement to help improve the HPC community and shape it for the future. It would be great to see you in Frankfurt and you can find more information about the BoF at the relevant ISC webpage. It will be held Wednesday June 27th, 10:30am to 11:30am in the Pikkolo room.

If you want more information then feel free to pop by the EPCC stand during ISC.

We hope to see you there!

HPC Certification Program

Published by:

Julian Kunkel

Why it’s needed?

The HPC community has always considered the training of new and existing HPC practitioners to be of high importance to its growth. The significance of training will increase even further in the era of Exascale when HPC encompasses even more scientific disciplines. This diversification of HPC practitioners challenges the traditional training approaches, which are not able to satisfy the specific needs of users, often coming from non-traditionally HPC disciplines and only interested in learning a particular set of skills. HPC centres are struggling to identify and overcome the gaps in users’ knowledge. How should we support prospective and existing users who are not aware of their own knowledge gaps? Most centres provide their own teaching material but most of the time it’s not comprehensive, which forces users to learn from multiple sources. How should intermediate HPC users identify content they have not mastered yet?

What it actually is?

Since there is a generally accepted set of skills and competencies necessary to efficiently use HPC resources, we propose the establishment of an international HPC Certification program that would clearly categorize, define, and examine them. Making clear what skills are required of or recommended for a competent HPC user would benefit both the HPC service providers and practitioners. Moreover, it would allow centres to individually bundle skills together that are most beneficial for specific user roles and scientific domains. Finally, recognized certificates simplify inter-comparison of independently offered courses and provide additional incentive for participation.

How to get involved?

To make sure the program becomes a community-wide and sustainable effort, we invite anyone experienced or interested in HPC teaching and training to participate in the discussion and get involved. If you are interested in join the initiative, send an email to  ( To receive the latest news, subscribe to the mailing list (

Several institutions and individuals already agreed to partner and contribute to this effort. We all will be working together to establish governance rules and work on the technical content. Our first meeting will happen at the ISC conference in Frankfurt on Wed June 27thduring lunchtime. For more information visit: We hope to see you there!



Retaining the Advantage of a diverse HPC Workforce: How to deal with Micro-aggression

Published by:

Manos Farsarakis, EPCC

At this year’s ISC conference in Frankfurt Women in High Performance Computing (WHPC) has teamed up with ARCHER Diversity and other interested parties to run a Birds of a Feather session focusing on micro-aggression in the context of creating and retaining diverse workforce. “Retaining the Advantage of a diverse HPC Workforce: How to deal with Micro-aggression” will take place 27thJune 2018 at ISC’18.

The aim of the session is to raise awareness on the issue of micro-aggression, offer first-hand experience from different perspectives and encourage a re-evaluation of what it means to create an inclusive workplace.

WHAT is micro-aggression?

Although, the term micro-aggression has been around for over 10 years it is surprisingly obscure and controversial. However, the impact of microaggression is potentially significant to already marginalised groups. The topic is not that well researched but has many definitions of varying extent. The BoF will focus on how the casual degradation of any marginalized group impacts the workforce during workplace interactions. We will discuss how creating a welcoming environment for all is key to retaining a diverse and effective workforce. Furthermore, we will encourage self-examination, challenging the individual instinct that all we do is “good” and “moral”.

Why should everyone care?

The compound effect of these seemingly minor acts of aggression can have a significant impact on an individual both personally as well as professionally. Motivation is a key contributor to an individual’s workplace productivity. We will use personal experience on both sides to investigate avenues for both self-improvement and extending this knowledge to the workplace.

What can be done?

Although it’s not about pointing fingers, instances of micro-aggression are often not intended, so dealing with them without pointing them out is extremely difficult. It’s not logical to expect someone to change their behaviour if they are not aware of it. Therefore, it’s important to vocalize things that bother us. Creating a working environment of openness, respect and appreciation is necessary.

As an observer: Speak out

As a receiver: Speak out

As a giver: Keep an open mind

As an employer: Encourage discussion

How to get involved?

Micro-aggression is not something that happens in professional environments only, so we invite everyone attending ISC18 to attend the session, regardless of their job title, position or affiliation.

The “Retaining the Advantage of a diverse HPC Workforce: How to deal with Microaggression” session will take places on Wednesday 27th June 2018 at 11:30 in the Pikkolo room at the Frankfurt Messe during ISC’18 in Frankfurt. Everyone is welcome to attend and contribute to the discussion.


Women in HPC at ISC18

Published by:

Toni Collis, Appentra and WHPC

In just 10 days WHPC will be at the ISC 2018 conference for our fourth year and including the eighth international Women in HPC workshop.

Our events will be focusing on current concerns from the community to improve inclusivity, as well as continuing our goals to provide opportunities for women to network, collaborate and take the next step in their career.

Events include:

  • BoF: Retaining the Advantage of a diverse HPC Workforce: How to deal with Microaggression
    Most of us recognise that diverse teams foster increased productivity and output. However, in recent years it’s become increasingly clear that recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce is the single biggest challenge. What can we, each of us, do to improve diversity and build a more inclusive environment? Although, microaggression is not something people tend to talk about, it is a real issue that many of us have to face on a daily basis. But what is it? Have you ever heard of, or experienced microaggression? This BoF will help you understand what microaggression is, the damage it can do to all communities (not just women!) and the steps you can take.
  • Reception: Networking and Careers Reception: Connecting talent and opportunity
    Following the success of our previous ISC High Performance Luncheon Receptions and our careers evening at SC17 we will be holding our first ISC evening cocktail and buffet dinner networking reception this year. We will be expanding our event and bringing together companies with women (and men!) who wish to find out more about the opportunities they provide from working in a more diverse and inclusive workforce to products and training that will help you build a successful career and thrive in your HPC role. Join us and our Anchor supporter, Lenovo, to discuss working in HPC, brainstorming the difficulties, the challenges, and the opportunities to improve diversity and inclusivity for everyone, and participate in the opportunity to meet our sponsors. 
    Places are limited: register now!
  • Eight International WHPC workshop
    Our workshop will discuss methods and steps that can be taken to address the under-representation of women, including how to build a resilient workforce, manage stress, be an advocate and ally and develop skills to thrive for women in their careers.


All of our events are designed to give those wishing to build an inclusive, supportive HPC workplace for both themselves and others, the knowledge and tools to make this happen.

Full details on all events, including times and locations is available on our dedicated ISC event page.

Register now!

Registration is now open for ISC 2018, which takes place June 24-28 in Frankfurt, Germany.

To participate in our workshop and BoF make sure you register for the workshop and Exhibit floor access.

Registration for the WHPC Evening Reception is free and via Pictatic.

See you in Frankfurt!